Over the 13 years of civil war, Burundi has witnessed “an unprecedented increase in violence against women, rape in particular,” according to a UN Peacebuilding Commission report. “Combating impunity, prevention and providing support to victims are major challenges in this area.” The report also notes that the country’s legal system discriminates against women, especially when it comes to inheritance, gifts and marital property.
The Anglican Church of Burundi, through the Mothers’ Union, has been at the forefront of efforts to address these issues and to push for the full participation of women in Burundian society. Among those it has helped is Francine Nijimbere, 26, who grew up in Mabanda province, until a tragedy forced her to flee to Bujumbura.
The following is Ms. Nijimbere’s story, as told to Anglican Journal staff writer, Marites N. Sison.
I WAS 21 when I got married. I was happy but, two months later, my husband died.
After his death, my brother-in-law came to my home and said I now belonged to him. He forced himself on me. I asked him to marry me but he refused. I got pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl. He was furious; he didn’t even see the baby. He didn’t give any money for the hospital and my mother had to pay the bills. Even his family said that because I had a girl, I didn’t have a place in their home.
After three months, the man came back and forced himself on me once more and he left. I got pregnant again. After six months, he returned and said, “What kind of baby are you having? It must be another girl.”
That night, while I was serving him dinner I could feel in my heart that something was wrong. I didn’t eat and went straight to bed. I was trying to sleep when I heard him come in. I saw him looking at me and then I felt something in my arm. I tried to get up but since I was heavy with child, I couldn’t. I screamed because I felt a sharp pain and saw that my arms were gone. I kept screaming and asking him, “Why? What did I do wrong?” All he said was, “It’s time for you to die because I want another woman who can give me a boy.” Then he starting hacking my legs and back and he stabbed me on the chest. I could see my baby girl, who was nine months old at the time, on the floor, crawling in my pool of blood.
My neighbours were the ones who took me to the hospital. I found out later that he had also gone to my parents’ home and tried to kill my father.
I lost my memory for two weeks. I also miscarried. My mother-in-law cried when she found out that I had a boy. She cried because of that, not because I was hurt or that the baby died. I started crying too but a nurse said, “Why are you crying when you already have a healthy girl?”
The women in the Anglican church in Makamba came by every day to pray and bring me food to eat. I stayed in the hospital for about eight months. The whole time I was in so much pain. One of my legs later got paralyzed.
I didn’t want to go home, so my sister abandoned her studies to take care of me. But then she got married. I had no one to help me. My mother was old and she also had to take care of my father, who became weak after the attack.
I also wanted to leave because I was afraid that he would see me and try to kill me again. He was arrested but sometimes he can get out of prison. He was asked to pay me in damages but he never did.
The same group of women that visited me helped me to go to Bujumbura. I currently live near the Anglican church, with ADDF (L’Association pour la Defense des Droits de la Femme/Association for the Defence of the Rights of Women), which helps women who are victims of violence. My daughter lives in Rutana, about 120 km from here, at the SOS Children’s Village. Her name is Akimana Christ Abera, which means, ‘she belongs to Christ.’ I haven’t seen her in a long time.
She’s there because I can’t take care of her. I can’t even take care of myself; someone has to feed and wash me. The church gives money to pay for my caretaker.
I’m glad that the ADDF took me in but I have no independence. I must always ask for money. Even my clothes come from the church. If I can have arms then I can do things for myself. Maybe I can be normal again.
I’ve also been told that I can’t stay at the ADDF forever. Soon it will be time for me to go. I tell them I have no one to assist me, but there are also other women who need help.
I really hope that in the end I can be with my daughter. I have hope that Jesus has a good plan for me and I’m waiting.